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Posts Tagged ‘Electric Wheelchair’

11 Amazing Gadgets and Inventions by Students and Amateurs

Amateur and student inventions have a long and noble tradition. We all know about Youtube or Ford, but did you know that the guy who invented TV was also an amateur? (thank you, for making Firefly possible.)

Lately, amateur science has been making strides all over the place thanks to better micro-chips, modular components, and huge advances in miniaturization and nanotech. Today’s amateurs (or “independent inventors,” as they are sometimes called) have a lot more to work with than their sprocket-wielding ancestors, and it shows. Here are a few of the most recent, and coolest creations.

1 The Uno Electric Unicycle

This hip-looking uni-wheeled electric bike was built, designed, and conceived by 18-year-old Ben Gulak. Sick of smog, he decided to create something that could be a viable alternative to driving, something like the Segway, only… way cooler. He came up with a cross between an electric bike and a motorcycle, with two wheels side-by-side. The bike is stabilized by gyros; to speed up, you lean forward. He designed it for commuters, and you can ride it for between 2 and 2.5 hours before it needs a recharge. He built it with the help of his grandfather, who is also a tinkerer and worked as an engineer, so he had all the necessary equipment on hand. The secret? The Uno is powered by electric wheelchair motors.

2 The Flying Car

Although I’m still waiting for something that looks like Luke’s landspeeder before I’ll believe that the future has truly arrived, this will have to do in the meantime. Its inventor, MIT student Carl Deitrich, calls his creation a “Personal Air Vehicle.” It’s a hybrid airplane-car, built to make short trips between 100 – 500 miles using the hundreds of small public airports and runways that dot the country.

It’s about the size of an SUV, but unlike an SUV this baby only seats two, plus luggage. It uses gyroscopic control in the air, and once you land at the airport you don’t need to “de-plane” and wait with a hundred other people to snatch you luggage from the conveyor belt – instead, you just flip the “Personal Air Vehicle” into “Personal Ground Vehicle” (car) mode, fold the wings into the body, and hit the highway.The construction of the plane includes all the standard vehicle safety stuff – seatbelts, crumple-zones, etc, but under the hood there’s definitely something special. It uses an ultra-efficient rocket engine that doesn’t require a turbo-pump to deliver the fuel, so it’s both cheaper, and lighter, than any other engine of its kind, which is what makes the whole thing possible. And while Deitrich admits that the idea for a flying car is nothing new, he’s the first guy to actually have one in his garage.

3 The Wall Scaling Batman Style Belt

This utility belt is just like Batman’s, but real. It can lift 250lbs (ie: Batman plus his suit) 50 feet in 5 seconds. It’s supposed to be used for good – towing things, getting soldiers into hard-to-reach places, helping firefighters get up buildings etc. But we know better: it’s just completely cool to be able to scale buildings. There are several models being created now that get you up further, faster, or carry more weight, but the idea is the same.

4 The Wearable Computer

Debuting at TED this year was an invention by another MIT student, Pranav Mistry, whose speciality is human-machine interface. His “SixthSense” computer system is wearable, and it’s hard to describe, except to say that it is completely awesome and kind of crazy.It uses a real-time gestural interface – a camera around your neck and watches your hands, and a projector beside it allows you to project data onto walls, or onto your hand, or onto anything else, and interact with it as if it were real – using a projected calculator, checking a projected wristwatch, or rearranging projected photos.

Some of the most wow-inducing examples presented at TED include a Wall Street Journal that, when pointed at, turns interactive, playing its lead story as a video, projected right onto the paper. You can play, pause, and enlarge the video by pressing the projected buttons underneath it. The set up is basically a laptop, camera, and projector, and the whole thing is internet-enabled, so you can look up product specs and compare prices right in a store, for instance, by pointing at an item and making a certain motion. It’s a hardware mash-up of found technologies from everywhere, but Mistry has put them together into a completely mind-bending package.

5 The Invisibility Cloak

This cloak invariably invokes comparisons to Harry Potter, but it’s not quite that good – yet. Japanese prof Susumu Tachi and his grad students created what they call a “retro-reflective projection system,” which basically means that what’s on one side gets projected onto the other. The jacket is made up of special reflective beads, which function like cats-eyes, reflecting almost all the light back to the source with a minimum of scattering (the effect they harness is the same one desponsible for “red-eye” in photos). When the rearward image is projected onto the front-facing beads, their shape and highly-focussed nature makes the picture look three dimensional… more or less. Each bead acts like a giant pixel. Watch the video to see it in action.

6 The Tumor-Killer

When a guy builds something in his garage that he claims will cure cancer, it’s OK to be a little skeptical. John Kanzius was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002 and, as a radio engineer and self-professed tinkerer, he set out to see what he could do about it. He came up with the idea of using nanoparticles and energy from highly focussed radio waves, to cook cancer cells from the inside out.Radio frequency is harmless to normal cells, and it scatters quickly, so it’s generally pretty useless for highly specific stuff. So Kanzius used the principle of a tuning fork, building two small antennae that resonate at a certain frequency and focus an RF wave between them. It reverberates like a guitar string, generating an electromagnetic field around itself. When metal nanoparti
cles are placed inside the field, they absorb its energy and heat up – but surrounding biological tissues are unaffected. Kanzius had figured out a way to cook a tumor from the inside out, without exposing a patient to the harmful radiation effects of chemotherapy.
Medical trials are still underway, and Kanzius died of complications from leukemia in February without seeing if his invention was a success – but rabbits exposed to the treatment are still alive, and FDA approval is being sought for human trials starting in 2010.

7 The Bedside Nuclear Fusion Reactor

Maybe high school student Thiago Olsen got sick of blowing the household circuits whenever his bedside coffee maker started up, or maybe he just just thought it would be neat to scare the bejeezus out of the Michigan Department of Health, but whatever his reasons, he decided it would be fun to build something several times hotter than the interior of the sun, next to his desk. So, on the weekends and after school he built his own fusion reactor. And it works – he can create ultra-hot plasma in a jar. Unfortunately, it takes way more energy to run it than it creates, so Doc Ock doesn’t have any competition yet. But Olsen didn’t need tritium or enormous, weirdly anthropomorphic robot arms to make his fusion generator run: he built it entirely out of components he got from the local hardware store, along with a few pieces of electronic test gear scrounged from E-Bay. Not bad for a weekend project.

8 The Roomba

Ok, I’ll admit it, the Roomba is one of those inventions that is sort of disappointing when you see it. Although it’s cool, what we really want when we think about home robotics is a fully-functional robot butler like Rosie on the Jetsons, and the Roomba doesn’t really measure up. But creating, designing, marketing, and producing small, self-propelling vacuums is still a pretty cool achievement, when you think about it. You’ve got to start somewhere, after all. In the early ’90s, inventor Helen Grenier, a mechanical engineer and yet another MIT grad (maybe there’s something in the water) founded a company to build robots – she just thought they were cool. What kind of robots? Well, she tried all sorts of different ones, but kept getting asked – jokingly – if she could create a robot to clean houses. She’d almost run out of money when realized that there really was a market for these things, and the Roomba was born. The genius lay in the pricing – under $200 – not just the compact design and simple construction.The company (now called iRobot, presumably because the vacuums allow no harm to come to humans as a result of dirty floors), is expanding into all sorts of other home automation now, too, and has funded robot-building contests all over the US and around the world.

9 The Student Satellite

In 2000, a group of Stanford students completed work on OPAL (Orbital Picosatellite Automated Launcher) and it was launched into space, along with a few other satellites, by NASA. It worked – well, sort of. There were quite a few bugs and it had problems communicating, but technically it was functional. While it required a lot of coaxing to get it to talk, it was definitely a landmark event. Now there are dozens of student-built satellites orbiting the Earth, but these guys did it first.

10 The World’s First Insulin Pump and The Segway (Dean Kamen)

Not strictly speaking a creation, but a guy with a bunch of creations. Kamen dropped out of a mechanical engineering program in the late 1970s. He created the world’s first insulin pump, and founded a company to put his various ideas to work. In 2002 he invented the Segway. While it was a financial disaster, his patents made him rich, so he carried on creating: he made a stair-climbing wheelchair, a tiny dialysis machine (they used to be gigantic), a new vaccine-delivery system… he’s kind of like Edison for the 1990s. His latest invention is called the “Luke arm“, in commemoration of Skywalker’s robotic hand.

11 The Bionic Contact Lense

This contact lens has a circuit on it, which lets you see things as if they were projected in front of you – a road map, World of Warcraft, exam hints, the possibilities are endless. The creators, University of Washington duo Ehsan Saeedi and Samuel Kim, made the device using nano-circuitry and teeny-weeny LEDs, 1/3mm across and 20nm thick. They’re also planning on including a solar cell for power. So far, they haven’t tested it extensively, but it’s made out of the same flexible organic materials that regular contacts are made from, so even though it looks a bit uncomfortable, the creators claim that you won’t even know it’s there.

Hope for paralysed patients as Obama overturns Bush's block on stem cell therapy

Patients with spinal cord injury will become the first people to be treated with human embryonic stem cells this summer in a move that marks a new chapter for science.

The first human study of the controversial technology, which is opposed by pro-life groups because it involves destroying embryos, will today be approved by U.S. regulators. 

U.S. biotech company Geron has been given permission to inject eight to 10 patients with cells derived from embryonic cells, according to Geron’s CEO, Dr Thomas Okarma.

The patients will be paraplegics, who can use their arms but can’t walk. They will receive a single injection within two weeks of their injury.

The study is aimed at testing the safety of the procedure, but doctors will also look for signs of improvement like return of sensation or movement in the legs, Dr Okarma said.

Whatever its outcome, the study will mark a new chapter in the contentious history of embryonic stem cell research – a field where debate spilled out of the laboratory long ago and into national politics.

New chapter: The potential of human embryonic stem cells will be trialled on paraplegics

While some overseas doctors claim to use human embryonic stem cells in their clinics, stem cell experts said they knew of no previous human studies that use such cells.

‘It’s a milestone and it’s a breakthrough for the field’ because Geron passed the safety hurdles for getting federal clearance to launch the study, said Ed Baetge, chief scientific officer of Novocell Inc. 

The long-awaited technology may have helped Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who was tragically paralysed from the neck down after falling during an equestrian competition in May 1995.


Huge promise: The technology could have helped Superman actor Christopher Reeve who was confined to a wheelchair after a horse riding accident

The actor, who was confined to an electric wheelchair that he controlled by blowing through a straw, campaigned heavily for the disabled and in particular for stem cell research.

He testified before a Senate sub-committee to back federal funding for the contested technology and in 1999 set up the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

Novocell Inc. hopes to begin a similar human study for treating diabetes in a few years.

In addition, spinal cord injury researcher Dr Wise Young of Rutgers University said: ‘A lot of hope of the spinal cord injury community is riding on this trial.’

Embryonic stem cells can develop into any cell of the body, and scientists have long hoped to harness them for creating replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases.

But research has been controversial because embryos must be destroyed to obtain them.

President Barack Obama has promised to relax the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal financing for such research. 

But Obama’s ascent to the White House had nothing to do with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s granting permission for the new study, Dr Okarma said on Thursday.

Controversial technology: A single cell is removed from a human embryo to generate stem cells for scientific research

In fact, the company says, the project involves stem cells that were eligible for federal funding under Bush, although no federal money was used to develop the experimental treatment or to pay for the human study.

Other human cells, called adult stem cells, have been tested before in people to treat heart problems, for example.

In the Geron study, the injections will be made in the spine at the site of damage. 

The work will be done in four to seven medical centres around the country, Dr Okarma said.

Animal studies suggest that once injected, the cells will mature and repair what is essentially a lack of insulation around damaged nerves, and also pump out substances that nerves need to function and grow.

Apart from assessing safety, investigators will hope to see some signs of improvement in the patient, Dr Okarma said. 

The idea is ‘not to make somebody… get up and dance the next day,’ he said, but rather to provide some level of ability that can be improved by physical therapy.


Opposed: Pro-life groups say the new technique involves destroying embryos. Pictured here are ampoules containing a medium for stem cell storage

Each patient will receive a low dose of anti-rejection drugs for about two months, because after that time the medications shouldn’t be needed, Dr Okarma said. The study will follow each patient for at least a year.

Dr Okarma said he can’t estimate how much such a therapy would cost if it proves effective, but that ‘this is not going to be a $500,000 (£364,724) price tag. It will be remarkably affordable… in the context of the value it provides.’

Evan Snyder, a stem cell researcher at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California, said scientists in the field will focus chiefly on the study’s results about safety.

‘The one hope that everybody has is that nothing bad happens,’ he said.

Geron Corp. has spent at least $100million (£73million) on human embryonic stem cell research. Founded in 1992, it does not have any therapies on the market.

However, the company is considered the world’s leading embryonic stem cell developer thanks to its claims on several key stem cell technologies. 

Geron helped finance researchers at the University of Wisconsin who first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998. The company has retained exclusive rights on several of those cell types.